Acclaimed Writer, Noted
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an
exclusive interview with Gerald Everett Jones.
Gerald Everett Jones has written more than
20 books on computer and business subjects, including Real World Digital
Video (coauthored with feature director Pete Shaner), Easy Photoshop
Elements, PMP® Certification For Dummies®, How to Lie with Charts, and A Guided
Tour of Excel (Sybex), as well as Harvard Graphics: The Art of Presentation.
His screenplay Ballpoint, a comedy about the outrageous huckster who promoted
the ballpoint pen in 1945, was among ten projects to be accepted into the
Screenwriter's Lab of the Independent Feature Project/West. He is a past
director of the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC) and is a
member of the Dramatists Guild and the Writers Guild of America. He has professional
expertise in computer graphics, industrial video, and website development and
served as writer and executive producer of the InnRoom Shopping Network, a
private TV channel in luxury hotels.
Q: Gerald, amongst your many talents, you
are as a celebrated writer, and graphics/video expert, thank you for doing this
A: I’m flattered that you asked and that
you value my opinions. They say fame is overrated (it won’t necessarily make
you rich), but anyone who has had a little of it always wants more!
Q: Tell us more about your work in
A: When I was in college I was an actor and
did summer stock, and for my senior thesis I wrote and directed a play. As the
writer, I could play all the parts. Back then there was no film school, and
screenwriting really didn’t figure in my plans. When I got out in the world, I
started as a writer of industrial film and video—commercials and corporate
PR—and my colleagues were all obsessed with becoming screenwriters. I caught
that bug. Most of my writing career has tended toward business and technical
books, mainly because that’s where I found the paying work—and it’s work I know
how to do. But all along I’ve been writing screenplays, taking courses, entering
contests, hustling my screen stories. I’ve been doing it for more years than I
care to admit.
I’ve won two awards—a runner-up at the Long Beach Playwrights
Festival for a historical drama (Hypatia of Alexandria) and a finalist in the
Independent Feature Project Screenwriters Lab for a comedy feature (Ballpoint).
I’ve had several other “near misses,” with semi-finalist placements in the
Chesterfield and Nicholl competitions and some options that came and went.
Today, I have two feature films under option, and like everybody in Hollywood I
try not to sit around waiting for the phone to ring. But all that said,
screenwriting is a very special, rarified art form. The constraints to be
concise, compelling, and visual—all at the same time—are unlike those in any
other medium. So making it work is always a thrill, all the more so because the
magic is hard to catch, doesn’t happen every day.
Q: Detail your past work as a director of
the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC)?
A: I’ve been a freelance writer since the
mid ‘80s, with occasional lapses for day jobs, and IWOSC was one of the first
professional organizations I joined. It has several hundred members in L.A.,
mainly journalists and book authors. As I became more active in the organization,
I gravitated to a subgroup called the Scriptwriters Caucus, which had separate
meetings, talked about features a lot, and had about 20 working members who did
industrials for a living. One of the reasons I served on the IWOSC board was to
try to integrate the screenwriters better into the larger organization. It
didn’t work too well. The caucus broke off and became the Scriptwriters
Network, which still exists today, but I’m not involved with it. However, IWOSC
is the best support organization I know of for writers who aspire to actually
make a living putting words on paper. I’m still a member and occasionally I
give seminars or participate in panel discussions. Even though writing is such
a solitary activity, that doesn’t mean you have to build your career all by
yourself. The other writers you know will rarely if ever be your competitors
for particular assignments. They can be your mentors and networking buddies.
Q: What are the benefits in being a member
of the Dramatists Guild and the Writers Guild of America?
A: The Dramatists Guild
based in New York,
is a professional society that serves playwrights.
Writers Guild of America (WGA), which has offices in
both NYC and LA, is a labor union that serves television and film writers
(also, increasingly, multimedia). The WGA East membership skews heavily toward
writers of news and soaps, while the West deals mostly with episodic TV and
features. To join the DG, you must have had a play produced and pay nominal
annual dues. (If you become successful as a playwright, you will pay a
percentage of your income to the Guild.) The DG publishes lists of contests,
festivals, grants, and other programs periodically, and they are very good
about covering most of the opportunities for struggling playwrights to get
recognition, if not productions. They also have negotiated standard contracts
for the commercial venues (Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional), and their legal
department will review any member’s contracts. As for the WGA, traditionally
you don’t join it, it comes to you when you’ve made a deal with one of its
signatories (studio, network, or production company). That’s changed in recent
years. There is now an associate status for writers working in nonfiction
(reality), animation, and indie films. You can join as an associate if you have
some professional experience (there are specific requirements in each
specialty). If you are an associate member of WGA, there are nominal annual
dues. If you get enough screen credits to become a full member, the dues are
low four-figures per year, but the pension and health plans are included. WGA
works closely with writers’ agents, managers, and entertainment attorneys to
make sure that deals are fair and consistent with standard practice in the industry.
There are more professional hand-holders (like agents and managers) in TV and
film than there are in the stage world because the deals tend to be richer and
The main benefit of both organizations is
some degree of protection against producers who try to get writers to work for
free or on spec—or take advantage of you in other ways. Remember: 1) Fame is
overrated, and 2) people don’t value what they don’t pay for. And beware of
anyone who is peddling his ability to get a script to
(insert big name
Q: Can you describe your work in computer
A: Along the way in my industrial film
career, I started working with computer-generated business graphics (slides). I
then ran a Genigraphics service center in Detroit, back in the days of
room-sized minicomputer systems. We started experimenting with the first
desktop systems, including a Cromemco Z80 with color display, just before the
Apple II and the first IBM PC began to dominate the marketplace. From there, I
got heavily involved in supervising software development for those systems, and
eventually—years later when the dot-com boom was under way—those kinds of
projects encompassed websites and digital television. Having hands-on
experience with computer graphics is really what got me into writing technical
books. The first book I wrote was on AutoCAD, followed by books on Harvard
Graphics and Freelance Graphics. Then I became something of an authority on
Excel—because the boom in business graphics died when Microsoft started “giving
away” PowerPoint. More recently, I’ve been caught up in the DV revolution, and
I’m really excited about what’s being called the Democratization of Video. The
business models of indie film producers are looking more and more like those of
garage bands—anyone can do it!
Q: What lessons can you pass on from your
work in industrial video?
A: A lesson? Don’t go the cheap route.
You’d think that corporate video is like home movies for business. Wrong!
Industrial video production is every bit as serious (and potentially expensive)
as the slickest feature production. Why? Because the success of products and
company stock values are on the line. How good should it look? Anything but the
best just won’t do. But now that DV is coming to every desktop, there will be a
lot of pressure on middle managers to go in-house, to save money. Top
management may even push the idea—until they see the results. It’s not that DV
is poor quality—it’s that the people holding the cameras, setting the lights,
capturing the sound, and editing the footage have to know how to achieve
quality. They need professional skills. No one is going to get promoted by
producing a “good home movie” of the company CEO’s annual address to the
shareholders. As evidence of this, consider that the highest cost-per-minute of
in any medium is spent on network television commercials—still shot mainly on
film because advertisers perceive it means higher quality
Q: Tell us more about website development.
A: There are still no generally accepted
business models for making money on the Internet—Amazon, Google, Yahoo, and
eBay notwithstanding. The big result of the dot-com meltdown is that websites,
in the present business climate, are most successful when they are an adjunct
to some mainstream business. And they work great for that. For example,
computer-dependent consumers are discovering that automated customer support
sites can actually provide more information, more consistent and reliable
answers, than live operators. Especially for those “FAQs.” If I want to find a
manual for an outdated product, I can be reading the PDF in about three
minutes. I can find an updated driver for my old printer just as fast. My
personal feeling is that website media distribution won’t really take off until
there’s a generally accepted system of micro-payments. Perhaps on a
subscription model—like cell phones. You get so many clicks at a fractional
penny per click, for so much per month. Some of the business managers think
this can’t happen because kids are such a big target audience and many of them
don’t have credit cards. No problem, I say. The bookstores and retailers
already figured that out with the electronic gift card. The parent gives the
kid a card charged up to a certain limit. You do your homework, it gets
recharged. Everybody wins in that model.
Q: Can you discuss your work as a writer
and executive producer of the InnRoom Shopping Network?
A: Good follow-on question to the above, it
turns out. I spent several years working for Reynolds Printasign, which
develops and sells desktop systems for making retail signs and shelf labels. It
was just one of my many iterations of computer graphics development. That
business went soft when PCs became commodity items. So we started looking
around for other business models that involved computer graphics. After we
abandoned color printing on tee shirts and ads on the back of cash register
receipts, we formed Targeted Digital Networks and got involved in digital TV
distribution—what used to be called closed-circuit TV, but using computer
networks. We set about to design custom networks for corporate clients. You’re
seeing more and more of that today—a private version of CNN in airport
departure lounges, LCD displays at supermarket checkout and bank teller
windows—all with paid—and locally targeted—ad placements. It’s a potentially
huge business—completely outside traditional broadcasting and cable—that is
about to explode. One of our ventures was with Wyndham Hotels. We piggybacked
on the in-room TV distribution system and produced a private channel for luxury
shopping. We hired our own on-camera host, and we “re-purposed” and edited
infomercials that were produced for The Golf Channel and some others—selling
upscale items like golf clubs and exercise equipment. Then we had a toll-free
phone number for inbound orders, as well as a website (a Yahoo Store) for
online fulfillment. It was a really cool venture—but it fizzled for a variety
of reasons, including the dot-com meltdown and the scarcity of investment
capital after 9/11. But we did find out some new things. For example, you can’t
do a repetitive “call to action” in a hotel-room setting. People will just
switch you off, and you really can’t make them pick up the phone. So those
spots had to be cut down, the pitch made softer. And there was a schizoid kind
of split between the time people watched and when and how they bought. They watched
during “shave time,” 7-10AM business-day mornings. They bought—not by
picking up the phone—but by going to the website. And several hours later—when
their morning business meetings ended and they broke for lunch! Makes perfect
sense, but who could have predicted that behavior? Just goes to show, when you,
in effect, create a new medium, it generates its own rules and behavior
Q: Describe your most surprising
A: I don’t remember the moment
specifically, but being born has to be the big one.
Q: Do have any humorous stories to share?
A: Okay, showbiz joke. Old, but hits close
to home. Famous director—John Huston, let’s say—dies and finds himself standing
at the Pearly Gates. He thinks he’s about to enter when St. Peter warns him
that he won’t be working any time soon. Apparently Heaven has lots of sound
stages, but they’re booked solid and there’s a long waiting list. Huston is distraught.
He had so looked forward to having Michelangelo as his set designer, Dickens
and Balzac as a writing team, Garbo as his star! The big Gatekeeper thinks a
moment, then offers, “You might want to try the Competition.” And before Huston
can reply, he finds himself transported in a flash to Hell, where he’s
immediately jostled by a couple of grips carrying gigantic movie lights.
Looking around, he sees that Hell is no fiery inferno at all—it’s one colossal
movie studio! And it’s full of the best equipment, the most sumptuous sets, the
most dazzling costumes—and the talent pool isn’t too shabby, either. John
Barrymore is head of SAG South and apparently there’s lots of partying and all
the sex anyone could want. Huston stops one of the harried crew and asks, “This
place is incredible! Why would anyone ever want to shoot in Heaven?” The
bewildered grip just casts his eyes resentfully upward and replies sadly, “Up
there, the movies actually get made.”
Q: Can you share your ten most valuable
guidelines from your book, “Easy Adobe Photoshop Elements”?
A: 1) There are lots of digital file
formats. Learn how they differ and which to use for specific applications—print
repro, email, web design.
2) Before you edit any shots, transfer them
from the camera and burn a CD—store it as your digital negative.
3) Use the PSE feature to print Contact
Sheets and store with the CD.
4) Use the File Info function to store
photo research, copyright, location, subject, and/or source information on your
shots. It can hold a lot of text for a single picture.
5) Mark your own original photos with
copyright notice and/or digital watermark and include your website URL in File
6) When you convert a color photo to
B&W, you will always need to increase the contrast. The Auto Contrast
feature usually does the trick.
7) Watch for blown-out whites. You can’t
recover detail from areas that have gone pure white (also true for black areas,
but not as common a mistake.)
8) When retouching portraits, don’t overdo
it. You’re not married to a manikin. Character and personality are in the lines
and wrinkles (okay, nuke the zits).
9) If you have time to digitize (scan) your
old snapshots, you’re better organized than I am.
10) Set aside some free time and play with
your digital photos to make artwork. It will engage the other side of your
brain, and you’ll be surprised at the results.
Q: What future books, columns, and articles
can we expect from you?
A: I’m working on The 24P Primer with Pete
Shaner—a book on film-look DV Hollywood-style. Also a DV editing book on Vegas
5. I have several other book projects, one on a scandal in art history and
another on ancient Alexandria. (I might have to “retire” before I can finish
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
A: At a keyboard, I hope.
Q: What are the most important trends to
watch, and please provide some detailed recommendations?
A: 1) After the U. S. presidential
election, no matter who wins, I expect interest rates and taxes will rise
rapidly. I hope I’m wrong. Don’t pay attention to financial analysts on TV.
They work for advertisers—brokerage firms that want you to buy, buy, buy.
2) I don’t expect a business boom.
Artificially low interest and tax cuts are keeping things going until the
election, but I don’t think that situation is sustainable. There’s too much
capital outflow, both to the ventures and adventures in the Middle East (which
won’t produce returns, I fear) and from the dollar to the Euro. Expect rocky
times ahead, for a long time.
3) Publishing is going through yet another
transformation. It’s the Wal-Martization of the literary world. Authors’
advances are getting smaller. Books are getting dumber. There’s more pressure
to accept reduced royalties or even work-for-hire. Experienced editors are
disappearing as younger executives with law or business degrees take their
places. There are only two outlets—Amazon and B&N. Let’s hope on-demand
digital publishing (iUniverse) can become a viable alternative.
4) The web model may evolve toward
micro-payments within subscriptions, as I described above. I hope it does. Some
people like the free-for-all atmosphere, and that’s fine if you’re a young
computer geek playing around. But as a place to earn a living, it has to have
its “protected” areas with rules and costs.
5) If the ISPs were to charge internet
postage for email, it would be the
single most effective way of doing away with spam. Russian hackers hate to pay
money for anything. And if legal users see unexplained spikes in their bills,
they’ll pay attention to whether their systems are being ripped off as spam
6) I hope Mozilla Thunderbird becomes the
de facto standard as an email client. Give it a try www.mozilla.org. Its
adaptive spam filter is better (and less annoying) than anything I’ve used,
including Outlook 2003. I’m still fuming that XP left the door open for all
7) I’d like to see Linux blow Windows away,
but I still have a codependent relationship with Microsoft products. I’m just
disgusted with software that almost works. But going over to the Dark Side
(Macs) will just aggravate you in different ways. (I know this seems at odds
with my advocacy of paid models on the Internet, but it doesn’t have to be. A
Linux world might be based on micro-payments, too.)
8) We haven’t yet seen the far-reaching
changes .NET technology will bring. Computers will talk to other computers:
“Hey, bud, got a few processing cycles to spare? Tweak this file and forward it
to my homie over in China, will ya? If not, pass it on. By the way, you are
licensed, aren’t you?”
9) Gasoline will become so expensive that
the alternative-fuel industry will finally come into its own. But, guess what?
The “energy” companies are ready. Analog: Tobacco companies now sell food.
10) Factory farming will reach the limits
of practicality and land use. Morality aside, rising costs of meat production
will eventually drive most of us to much healthier diets based on vegetable (or
even synthetic) protein.
Q: List the 10 best resources.
A: 1) Google (not a big fan of the toolbar,
2) The online card catalog and subscription
information services provided by your local public library
3) Library of Congress online catalog
4) For writers, The Elements of Style by
Strunk & White
5) Your parents—in fact, anyone older than
you. Or younger, for that matter.
6) For story ideas, memories triggered by
paging through your high-school yearbook
7) A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese
Through American Movies (DVD set produced by BBC)
8) Shaner and Jones, Real World Digital
Video, Second Edition (Peachpit Press) – Immodest? Hey, I put it off to No. 8,
9) Jones, How to Lie with Charts
(iUniverse) – Perhaps the best book I’ve ever written, certainly in a niche by
- Not fancy but I call it Home.
Q: Who/what do you think are the winners
and losers in the next five years and why?
A: I hope the people who think a better
world can be achieved by war and violence will be the big losers. I hope that
people who love each other and love the planet more than they love any ideology
will be the big winners.
Q: You pick five topic areas and then
provide us with those valuable rare “gems” that only you know.
I have no exclusive hold on any of this,
but here’s what occurs to me:
1) Area 1: Screenwriting
a) When writing or editing, here’s how to
choose the point of attack in a scene or story: Same as attending a Hollywood
party—get in as late as possible and
leave early, before it gets boring.
b) If somebody makes you an offer on a
script, first check his/her credits on imdb.com.
c) List your scripts on Inktip.com but
register them first. In fact, register every new draft that has major changes.
d) Never, ever give up.
2) Area 2: Computers
a) Try not to fix it if it isn’t broken,
but realize you will try anyway, and break something else.
b) Learn hierarchical directory structure
and how to navigate your drives. If you store everything in My Documents, you
should ask your grandfather about Fibber McGee’s Closet.
c) Give files descriptive names and include
the date of creation; don’t rely on the date stamp (which can change).
d) You can’t create too many folders or
make too many backups. (Hard drives don’t fail as often these days, which
creates a false sense of security. I know a video editor whose [supposedly
crash-proof] RAID drive when down in smoke right before a big deadline.)
3) Area 3: Writing
a) Please try to preserve some personal
style in your sentences. We can’t all write for the New York Times, so why
should we all imitate its vanilla style?
b) Resist the advice to make your
statements and your logic too simple. Go ahead and throw in a few sentences
that exceed 20 words—just learn to punctuate them properly.
c) Explain in context, preferably with an
example or a comparison, and preferably from the reader’s experience.
d) If you write for a living, save some
time and energy for your own stuff. Otherwise, you will lose your love for it.
4) Area 4: E-mail
a) If you receive a note encouraging you to
forward it to everyone you know, don’t. Regardless of how virtuous the message
is (kid with cancer, heartfelt prayer), the originator is probably a spammer
who wants to run a trace and vacuum up all your friends’ email addresses.
b) If you get a note from anyone in Africa
you don’t know, don’t reply. Disenfranchised princes with sob stories didn’t
start working their cons on the Internet. They’re at least as old as the
c) There is absolutely no chance whatever
that you could win a lottery you didn’t enter.
d) The price of a free web service is
usually, at the very least, an invitation to spam you without mercy. At worst,
it’s an invitation to install malware on your computer that will compromise
your privacy and possibly also do serious harm. Furthermore, email spam
offering to remove this stuff can be a trick to plant more. My personal
recommendation, go to www.tucows.com and
download Ad-Aware, which is free for personal use (and doesn’t come with
5) Area 5: Life
a) If you promise something, either deliver
it or notify promptly when you can’t and recommit. It’s amazing to me that
people don’t seem to realize how being absolutely faithful to your word is the
best way to win respect and power. Power proceeds from trust. Breach the trust,
lose the power. (You’d think politicians would understand this better than they
apparently do. Actually, they keep their word faithfully—to the people who put
them in power.)
b) If you find yourself disagreeing
vehemently and often with your coworkers or spouse, improve your diet and try
getting more sleep. They will think you got religion.
c) Believe in something outside yourself,
but act as if you’re its only pair of hands.
d) In life as on a movie set, go to the
restroom and sit down whenever you get the chance.
Q: What kind of computer setup do you have?
A: HP Pavilion (Athlon) reconditioned
desktop (great value for the money), Gateway laptop (workhorse, with DVD, been
around the world), home Ethernet and broadband cable (service sucks)—with
Airport bridge to my wife’s iMac upstairs. (We agree to disagree on some
Q: If you were doing this interview, what
five questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your
A: Q1: Why did you become a writer?
A1: I didn’t like the life of a preacher,
but I had the urge.
Q2: What drew you to being an actor?
A2: I wanted to find out what it would be
like to behave differently, without the slightest chance of incurring anyone’s
Q3: Why didn’t you continue your acting career?
A3: I had nightmares about forgetting my
lines—or knowing my lines perfectly and finding myself onstage in a different
play on opening night. But, as I said, I act all the time—when I write—and I
get to play all the roles.
Q4: Do you enjoy writing computer books?
A4: I don’t enjoy the idea of writing them.
They are income-producing projects for me. But when I’m actually writing one,
it’s like a giant crossword puzzle. Then it’s fun. I particularly like writing
books about topics I don’t know very well (when I start out). The trick is
conning publishers into thinking I’m an expert so I can get the chance.
Q5: Has writing business and technical
books been a lucrative career for you?
A5: The biggest royalty check I ever got bought
me a so-so used car. And there haven’t been many of those.
Q: Gerald, thank you again for your time,
and consideration in doing this interview.
A: Concluding thought: I tried to envision
world peace once. I expected it would be a crashing bore, a long droning
Ommmmm. Turns out, not. Everyone was busy attending seminars and chattering